Summer Nights, Lonely Nights.
You’re thinking about how when you last saw your uncle, he said, “That day your Dad died, I flew out, and I was there for a few days, but I had to go back before the funeral.”
You’re hanging on his every word because even though it’s a day or a few days or probably more like weeks that you rarely like to revisit, you feel like there might be a puzzle piece missing. He brought it up because you told him you can’t seem to get over your last relationship.
As hard as you try, you’re better off on your own, you like to say. A lie. But is it? Maybe that’s just because you remember silly shit. Like him always liking other girls’ stuff on Facebook or Instagram. Still humiliates you.
Social media ruins relationships.
You don’t go into another relationship or even try because the truth is that you don’t want to get your head handed to you again. A friend of a friend, an intuitive, she hit the nail on the head with you. Pinned you right where it hurt. “You got kicked off the horse. And now you don’t want to get back on.”
And suddenly you’re nine years old, and your cousin Ellie and you are at the barn where they ride, and you two sneak a horse out so you can both ride through the back farms of Petaluma and you get kicked off. Your head is an inch from a rock when you opened your eyes. Ellie yelling in your face, “You can’t tell anyone we did this!” So you never did. But you didn’t dare get back on a horse again.
And then back on the porch of your uncle’s house in South New Jersey. It’s 80 degrees and the grill is on. Last days of summer, everyone’s saying. Last heat wave. He says, “Well, I was walking back to my rental car and I saw you barefoot on the lawn, and you just said to me, ‘You’ll be back Uncle Michael, right? You promise me?'” He might be holding back tears because his voice is now an octave lower.
It’s a memory you must have blocked like so many from those days, weeks, months. You know exactly why you said that. Because the last time your Dad dropped you off at school, the last time you saw him, he promised he would be back to pick you up. “See you at three,” he’d said, telling a trusted tale you both knew. And then you never saw him again. Except when they brought you in to see the body.
But you feel like that doesn’t count. ‘Cause that guy on the table — soulless, lifeless, habitless — that wasn’t your Dad.
You’re back in LA and you’re walking around your neighborhood high as a kite, and you see this couple who always walks their dog. You remember them because she’s a foot and a half taller than him.
You wonder if they met in a bar, him perched on a high stool, her standing, and maybe they turned and locked eyes and started a conversation that would eventually wrap back around to her six foot two inch frame and he’d volley with how, by the time he was 14, the writing was on the wall — at five foot five on a good day, he would always be the shortest.
Before her, he had dated a five-footer, an actress who looked cute on his arm, but still he’d dared to be bold. To spend a life looking up instead of down.
“Can I pet your dog?” you ask.
The dog at your feet is one of those small round bulldogs. You wonder, like you always do, if they know how high you are. You’re wearing sunglasses. Probably not. Maybe you should get a dog.
When your uncle is telling you this stuff, stopping now and then to flip the burgers, you see his dog, Hannah, a pound mix, fogging up the glass sliding door. His indifference fuels her love. And you think about how you two aren’t so different. Looking for love, sometimes in the wrong places. Sometimes in the right ones.
Your uncle has moved on. “We were at the shore and I went to take the dog on a walk. And there is this girl passed out on our front lawn. Your age.”
And you feel for her, because even though you’ve never gone that far, you know how easy it would be to let it happen. How that loneliness, that spreads through your bones like radiation, lessens with each drink, till you’re making out with some guy behind a gas station on your 24th birthday. He’s in a band. And in those moments, you forget.
You forget that the one you really loved isn’t there. Didn’t text, email, send a carrier pigeon.
“Let me take you out on a nice dinner date,” he whispers in your ear.
“I don’t even know you.”
“Well, here goes. I just got out of a two-year relationship a month ago, and before that, I was in a relationship with this girl for…”
And drunk as you are, you stop listening. The bad news is, you know that any dude who rattles off their relationship history like it’s his fantasy football stats, when you ask them who they are, isn’t worth a moment of your time. The good news? Tonight you won’t be the devastated girl passed out on someone’s lawn.
You start walking, and of course, he follows. He doesn’t know yet what you know — that this makes two people standing behind a gas station in late August trying to forget about the person they actually loved. A month later, you’ll run into him randomly at a bar. He’ll be playing on the stage, and you’ll be with your friend and you’ll think, “Holy shit, I made out with the guitarist in that band.”
And then you and him will talk in the unisex bathroom, and he’ll say he got back together with his ex-girlfriend. No surprise there. He’s not happy. No surprise there. He looks at you like he wishes you would save him. No surprise there.
And you’re thinking about how you just want to be seen. And heard. By someone you care about, who cares about you. But it’s all part of it. All the lonely nights that add up, until you meet the one who doesn’t make you feel lonely.
But you know that when you’re 40, with a kid in front of you throwing a tantrum, the Crocs that his grandmother bought him abandoned in the puddle from the early afternoon rain, the dog has taken off, that you’ll turn and see a gas station and remember that on your 24th birthday you made out with some guy behind one of those. And for one second, you’ll smell the leather of his jacket. And then it’ll be gone.
But just enough will be left for you to know it was all a good time.
Grace Harryman grew up in Sonoma County, California, and attended UC Santa Cruz. However, she left early to attend the 12-month conservatory acting program at Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, where she discovered her love for writing, improvisation and sketch comedy. In 2016, Grace passed Writing Lab at the Groundlings Theater. She regularly performs and writes for Top Story! Weekly at I.O. West. Grace is a member of the Improv Diary team at Westside Comedy, mentioned three times as ‘One of the 10 Best Things to Do During the Week in Los Angeles’ by LA Weekly. She regularly produces, writes and stars in her own videos. This past spring Grace performed her one-woman show, Claim Jumper, at the Fringe Festival. The show won the coveted Encore Producers Award. She is an avid meditator, and believes in the power of intention. You could follow her on Instagram.